Venusian Skyline – Twilight Songs EP

Venusian Skyline
Twilight Songs EP

First impressions can be deceiving, especially in music. Sometimes you can hear a song or an album and find it completely unlistenable or merely mediocre, and then – with the passing of time and a new set of circumstances – that same song or album can somehow be transformed into a work of passionate vision. And so it is that I find myself caught quite off-guard by this new EP from Vero Beach, Florida’s Venusian Skyline. Just a couple of months ago I saw these guys perform at Churchill’s in Miami and they didn’t really do much for me. Whatever the band brought to the table in terms of talent and creativity was rendered obsolete by an utter lack of intensity and overbearing vocals that grated on my ears and got on my nerves. Naturally, when I discovered this EP in a small package of music to review, it was with some hesitation and some uneasy apprehension that I placed it into my player, preparing myself for the worst.
Instead what I found was the pleasant shock of a remarkably impressive piece of music. Twilight Songs is nothing short of an intelligent, well-constructed tome of soaring melodies and graceful harmonies that capture your imagination and stay in your head long after the stop button has been pushed on your player. Take for instance the shimmering beauty of the album’s opener, “Hands Across the Sea,” which starts with vocalist/guitarist Alan Martin’s nicely strummed reverb-guitars melding perfectly with his gravelly cigarette stained voice. Sounding for all the world like a young Mick Jagger or Billy Corgan after swallowing some asbestos, Martin comes off as weathered yet urgent and determined, unafraid to bear his soul out on paper and set it to music. What could be an average melody is made exceptional by chilling lyrics: “Growing up in that town always hearing the sound of what is dying in me.” Alan’s brother Scott provides some elegant and marvelous accompaniment on piano and organ, while bassist Bruce Reed and drummer Scott Poyer hang comfortably in the back, propelling the movement with ease and calm. Just as things begin to become derivative, the band suddenly breaks into a yawning abyss of startling atmospheric beauty with Scott Martin’s lush organ rolling into towering spires and dissolving into great pluming mists of melted chords. For those of you familiar with the intro to Pink Floyd’s “Any Colour You Like” off of the timeless Dark Side of the Moon, you’ll begin to get an idea of what I am trying to describe.
“The City is Black,” the second track off of Twilight Songs, also begins with some jangly Let It Bleed guitars and some glittering piano notes bursting like tiny firecrackers on a calm and clear night. I am reminded for some reason of Oasis here, only with less pop sensibility and darker undertones. Alan Martin offers up another fine poetic performance while the rhythm section’s impressive instinct for knowing when to let loose and attack the songs and when to show restraint is put on full display. Things get decidedly awe-inspiring when the song stretches lugubriously into an ethereal, organ-laced, astral plane of a bridge, before returning shortly with some twangy country-blues guitars that would make Mark Knopfler stand up and take notice.
Twilight Songs hits its peak with “Redwood Blues,” a serene piano- and guitar-driven instrumental that seeps into your consciousness like a fond and familiar dream and holds you in its ghostly grasp, fractured but captivating like dusty rays of sunshine peeping through a small crack in the curtains. Much like Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright or The Door’s Ray Manzarek, Scott Martin does so much more than provide a textured backdrop for the music or construct sonic soundscapes to allow the songs room to breathe. In many ways, he is like a second vocalist, another point of focus assuming command and demanding your rapt attention. It’s no small wonder that these two are brothers. The fantastic harmonic interplay between them feels intimate and intuitive.
The fourth track, “Murder Red and Gold,” flies in like a cyclone, upbeat and furious with some rapid-fire drumming and Moody Blues/Animals psychedelic organs, while the album’s final cut, “Down Like the River,” is another lovely, stark and somber piano ballad that erupts unexpectedly into a swirling, cascading piano line buffered by thick guitar chords before the band hits the gas and floors you with an all-out rocker that would make Petty, Seger, and Springsteen proud.
Recorded and produced by former Burning Airlines and Jawbox frontman turned hot-shit producer, J. Robbins, Twilight Songs is the sort of warm and dynamic American rock recording that you don’t hear too much of anymore, an old-school rock record that sets aside style for substance with sharp playing and memorable hooks. Along the way, Venusian Skyline manage to hit upon a bevy of vital touchstones: Pink Floyd, the Stones, The Doors, Elton John, and Dire Straits are just a few that I’ll mention here. But before you write them off as another dated retro throwback, there are also the stirring echoes of such modern acts as Smashing Pumpkins, Moby, Tortoise, and Tristeza. So despite their heavy leaning on rock’s elder statesmen, this is a great contemporary rock-n’-roll record with genuine moments of dreamy inspiration and a penchant for organic experimentation that feels natural and unforced. Nicely done.